The Psychology of Computers

“My computer is moody today.” “My computer doesn’t like me.” “My computer is going bonkers.” Sound familiar?

We often project human emotion onto computers. We do this with a variety of inanimate objects, but with computers it has added significance.

In a September 2009 Q&A with DABI member Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D., we were introduced to Rubi, a robot that has the ability to socially interact with preschoolers. Two years later we reported on Rubi’s first day of school. Rubi was designed to “cry” if one of the children got too rough, an example of the increasingly blurred lines between human and robot.

A research group at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology created a computer chip that emulates the activity of a brain synapse. One of the researchers told NBC News, “As long as we understand how the brain works, we can always reverse-engineer it and put it in a chip to reproduce those functions.” The report mentions future possibilities such as increased versatility for brain-machine interfaces and artificial intelligence devices that can mimic brain behavior for more complex tasks such as memory or decision making.

The consensus is we’re still a long way from creating a conscious machine. Just because a machine can mimic thought and behavior doesn’t mean it is conscious. And there are ethical questions surrounding this kind of work.

But who knows, maybe one day in the future you may say your computer is depressed and it will have merit.

– Isaac Sashitzky

2 responses

  1. When I finally realize I need help and get the IT guys to my desk, what I usually say about my computer is “This stupid machine.” Just goes to show you that when you accuse someone or, in this case, something of a malfeasance, it’s usually a good indication of what you think about yourself. Not that I nor my computer are stupid but working with machines sometimes goes beyond this human’s capacity.

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